THE BEGINNING OF ALL THINGS.
Mythology is the science which treats of the early traditions, or
myths, relating to the religion of the ancients, and includes, besides
a full account of the origin of their gods, their theory concerning
the beginning of all things.
[Sidenote: Myths of creation.]
Among all the nations scattered over the face of the earth, the
Hebrews alone were instructed by God, who gave them not only a full
account of the creation of the world and of all living creatures, but
also a code of laws to regulate their conduct. All the questions they
fain would ask were fully answered, and no room remained for
It was not so, however, with the other nations. The Greeks and Romans,
for instance, lacking the definite knowledge which we obtain from the
Scriptures, and still anxious to know everything, were forced to
construct, in part, their own theory. As they looked about them for
some clue to serve as guide, they could not help but observe and
admire the wonders of nature. The succession of day and night, summer
and winter, rain and sunshine; the fact that the tallest trees sprang
from tiny seeds, the greatest rivers from diminutive streams, and the
most beautiful flowers and delicious fruits from small green
buds,--all seemed to tell them of a superior Being, who had fashioned
them to serve a definite purpose.
They soon came to the conclusion that a hand mighty enough to call all
these wonders into life, could also have created the beautiful Earth
whereon they dwelt. These thoughts gave rise to others; suppositions
became certainties; and soon the following myth or fable was evolved,
to be handed down from generation to generation.
At first, when all things lay in a great confused mass,--
"Ere earth, and sea, and covering heavens, were known,
The face of nature, o'er the world, was one;
And men have call'd it Chaos; formless, rude,
The mass; dead matter's weight, inert, and crude;
Where, in mix'd heap of ill-compounded mold,
The jarring seeds of things confusedly roll'd."
Ovid (Elton's tr.).
The Earth did not exist. Land, sea, and air were mixed up together; so
that the earth was not solid, the sea was not fluid, nor the air
"No sun yet beam'd from yon cerulean height;
No orbing moon repair'd her horns of light;
No earth, self-poised, on liquid ether hung;
No sea its world-enclasping waters flung;
Earth was half air, half sea, an embryo heap;
Nor earth was fix'd, nor fluid was the deep;
Dark was the void of air; no form was traced;
Obstructing atoms struggled through the waste;
Where cold, and hot, and moist, and dry rebell'd;
Heavy the light, and hard the soft repell'd."
Ovid (Elton's tr.).
[Sidenote: Chaos and Nyx.]
Over this shapeless mass reigned a careless deity called Chaos, whose
personal appearance could not be described, as there was no light by
which he could be seen. He shared his throne with his wife, the dark
goddess of Night, named Nyx or Nox, whose black robes, and still
blacker countenance, did not tend to enliven the surrounding gloom.
[Sidenote: Erebus, Æther, and Hemera.]
These two divinities wearied of their power in the course of time, and
called their son Erebus (Darkness) to their assistance. His first act
was to dethrone and supplant Chaos; and then, thinking he would be
happier with a helpmeet, he married his own mother, Nyx. Of course,
with our present views, this marriage was a heinous sin; but the
ancients, who at first had no fixed laws, did not consider this union
unsuitable, and recounted how Erebus and Nyx ruled over the chaotic
world together, until their two beautiful children, Æther (Light) and
Hemera (Day), acting in concert, dethroned them, and seized the
[Sidenote: Creation of Gæa and Uranus.]
Space, illumined for the first time by their radiance, revealed itself
in all its uncouthness. Æther and Hemera carefully examined the
confusion, saw its innumerable possibilities, and decided to evolve
from it a "thing of beauty;" but quite conscious of the magnitude of
such an undertaking, and feeling that some assistance would be
desirable, they summoned Eros (Amor or Love), their own child, to
their aid. By their combined efforts, Pontus (the Sea) and Gæa (Ge,
Tellus, Terra), as the Earth was first called, were created.
In the beginning the Earth did not present the beautiful appearance
that it does now. No trees waved their leafy branches on the
hillsides; no flowers bloomed in the valleys; no grass grew on the
plains; no birds flew through the air. All was silent, bare, and
motionless. Eros, the first to perceive these deficiencies, seized his
life-giving arrows and pierced the cold bosom of the Earth.
Immediately the brown surface was covered with luxuriant verdure;
birds of many colors flitted through the foliage of the new-born
forest trees; animals of all kinds gamboled over the grassy plains;
and swift-darting fishes swam in the limpid streams. All was now life,
joy, and motion.
Gæa, roused from her apathy, admired all that had already been done
for her embellishment, and, resolving to crown and complete the work
so well begun, created Uranus (Heaven).
"Her first-born Earth produc'd,
Of like immensity, the starry Heaven:
That he might sheltering compass her around
On every side."
Hesiod (Elton's tr.).
[Sidenote: The egg myth.]
This version of the creation of the world, although but one of the
many current with the Greeks and Romans, was the one most generally
adopted; but another, also very popular, stated that the first
divinities, Erebus and Nyx, produced a gigantic egg, from which Eros,
the god of love, emerged to create the Earth.
"In the dreary chaotical closet
Of Erebus old, was a privy deposit,
By Night the primæval in secrecy laid;
A Mystical Egg, that in silence and shade
Was brooded and hatched; till time came about:
And Love, the delightful, in glory flew out."
Aristophanes (Frere's tr.).
[Sidenote: Mount Olympus and the river Oceanus.]
The Earth thus created was supposed by the ancients to be a disk,
instead of a sphere as science has proved. The Greeks fancied that
their country occupied a central position, and that Mount Olympus, a
very high mountain, the mythological abode of their gods, was placed
in the exact center. Their Earth was divided into two equal parts by
Pontus (the Sea,--equivalent to our Mediterranean and Black Seas); and
all around it flowed the great river Oceanus in a "steady, equable
current," undisturbed by storm, from which the Sea and all the rivers
were supposed to derive their waters.
[Sidenote: The Hyperboreans.]
The Greeks also imagined that the portion of the Earth directly north
of their country was inhabited by a fortunate race of men, the
Hyperboreans, who dwelt in continual bliss, and enjoyed a never-ending
springtide. Their homes were said to be "inaccessible by land or by
sea." They were "exempt from disease, old age, and death," and were so
virtuous that the gods frequently visited them, and even condescended
to share their feasts and games. A people thus favored could not fail
to be happy, and many were the songs in praise of their sunny land.
"I come from a land in the sun-bright deep,
Where golden gardens grow;
Where the winds of the north, becalm'd in sleep,
Their conch shells never blow.
"So near the track of the stars are we,
That oft, on night's pale beams,
The distant sounds of their harmony
Come to our ears, like dreams.
"The Moon, too, brings her world so nigh,
That when the night-seer looks
To that shadowless orb, in a vernal sky,
He can number its hills and brooks.
"To the Sun god all our hearts and lyres
By day, by night, belong;
And the breath we draw from his living fires
We give him back in song."
[Sidenote: The Ethiopians and the Isles of the Blest.]
South of Greece, also near the great river Oceanus, dwelt another
nation, just as happy and virtuous as the Hyperboreans,--the
Ethiopians. They, too, often enjoyed the company of the gods, who
shared their innocent pleasures with great delight.
And far away, on the shore of this same marvelous river, according to
some mythologists, were the beautiful Isles of the Blest, where
mortals who had led virtuous lives, and had thus found favor in the
sight of the gods, were transported without tasting of death, and
where they enjoyed an eternity of bliss. These islands had sun, moon,
and stars of their own, and were never visited by the cold wintry
winds that swept down from the north.
"The Isles of the Blest, they say,
The Isles of the Blest,
Are peaceful and happy, by night and by day,
Far away in the glorious west.
"They need not the moon in that land of delight,
They need not the pale, pale star;
The sun is bright, by day and night,
Where the souls of the blessed are.
"They till not the ground, they plow not the wave,
They labor not, never! oh, never!
Not a tear do they shed, not a sigh do they heave,
They are happy, for ever and ever!"
[Sidenote: Uranus and Gæa.]
Chaos, Erebus, and Nyx were deprived of their power by Æther and
Hemera, who did not long enjoy the possession of the scepter; for
Uranus and Gæa, more powerful than their progenitors, soon forced them
to depart, and began to reign in their stead. They had not dwelt long
on the summit of Mount Olympus, before they found themselves the
parents of twelve gigantic children, the Titans, whose strength was
such that their father, Uranus, greatly feared them. To prevent their
ever making use of it against him, he seized them immediately after
their birth, hurled them down into a dark abyss called Tartarus, and
there chained them fast.
[Sidenote: Titans, Cyclopes, and Centimani.]
This chasm was situated far under the earth; and Uranus knew that his
six sons (Oceanus, Cœus, Crius, Hyperion, Iapetus, and Cronus), as
well as his six daughters, the Titanides (Ilia, Rhea, Themis, Thetis,
Mnemosyne, and Phœbe), could not easily escape from its cavernous
depths. The Titans did not long remain sole occupants of Tartarus, for
one day the brazen doors were again thrown wide open to admit the
Cyclopes,--Brontes (Thunder), Steropes (Lightning), and Arges
(Sheet-lightning),--three later-born children of Uranus and Gæa, who
helped the Titans to make the darkness hideous with their incessant
clamor for freedom. In due time their number was increased by the
three terrible Centimani (Hundred-handed), Cottus, Briareus, and Gyes,
who were sent thither by Uranus to share their fate.
Greatly dissatisfied with the treatment her children had received at
their father's hands, Gæa remonstrated, but all in vain. Uranus would
not grant her request to set the giants free, and, whenever their
muffled cries reached his ear, he trembled for his own safety. Angry
beyond all expression, Gæa swore revenge, and descended into Tartarus,
where she urged the Titans to conspire against their father, and
attempt to wrest the scepter from his grasp.
[Sidenote: The Titans revolt.]
All listened attentively to the words of sedition; but none were
courageous enough to carry out her plans, except Cronus, the youngest
of the Titans, more familiarly known as Saturn or Time, who found
confinement and chains peculiarly galling, and who hated his father
for his cruelty. Gæa finally induced him to lay violent hands upon his
sire, and, after releasing him from his bonds, gave him a scythe, and
bade him be of good cheer and return victorious.
Thus armed and admonished, Cronus set forth, came upon his father
unawares, defeated him, thanks to his extraordinary weapon, and, after
binding him fast, took possession of the vacant throne, intending to
rule the universe forever. Enraged at this insult, Uranus cursed his
son, and prophesied that a day would come when he, too, would be
supplanted by his children, and would suffer just punishment for his
[Sidenote: Cronus and Rhea.]
Cronus paid no heed to his father's imprecations, but calmly proceeded
to release the Titans, his brothers and sisters, who, in their joy and
gratitude to escape the dismal realm of Tartarus, expressed their
willingness to be ruled by him. Their satisfaction was complete,
however, when he chose his own sister Rhea (Cybele, Ops) for his
consort, and assigned to each of the others some portion of the world
to govern at will. To Oceanus and Thetis, for example, he gave charge
over the ocean and all the rivers upon earth; while to Hyperion and
Phœbe he intrusted the direction of the sun and moon, which the
ancients supposed were daily driven across the sky in brilliant golden
Peace and security now reigned on and around Mount Olympus; and
Cronus, with great satisfaction, congratulated himself on the result
of his enterprise. One fine morning, however, his equanimity was
disturbed by the announcement that a son was born to him. The memory
of his father's curse then suddenly returned to his mind. Anxious to
avert so great a calamity as the loss of his power, he hastened to his
wife, determined to devour the child, and thus prevent him from
causing further annoyance. Wholly unsuspicious, Rhea heard him inquire
for his son. Gladly she placed him in his extended arms; but imagine
her surprise and horror when she beheld her husband swallow the babe!
[Sidenote: Birth of Jupiter.]
Time passed, and another child was born, but only to meet with the
same cruel fate. One infant after another disappeared down the
capacious throat of the voracious Cronus,--a personification of Time,
who creates only to destroy. In vain the bereaved mother besought the
life of one little one: the selfish, hard-hearted father would not
relent. As her prayers seemed unavailing, Rhea finally resolved to
obtain by stratagem the boon her husband denied; and as soon as her
youngest son, Jupiter (Jove, Zeus), was born, she concealed him.
Cronus, aware of his birth, soon made his appearance, determined to
dispose of him in the usual summary manner. For some time Rhea pleaded
with him, but at last pretended to yield to his commands. Hastily
wrapping a large stone in swaddling clothes, she handed it to Cronus,
simulating intense grief. Cronus was evidently not of a very inquiring
turn of mind, for he swallowed the whole without investigating the
real contents of the shapeless bundle.
"To th' imperial son of Heaven,
Whilom the king of gods, a stone she gave
Inwrapt in infant swathes; and this with grasp
Eager he snatch'd, and in his ravening breast
Convey'd away: unhappy! nor once thought
That for the stone his child behind remain'd
Invincible, secure; who soon, with hands
Of strength o'ercoming him, should cast him forth
From glory, and himself th' immortals rule."
Hesiod (Elton's tr.).
Ignorant of the deception practiced upon him, Cronus then took leave,
and the overjoyed mother clasped her rescued treasure to her breast.
It was not sufficient, however, to have saved young Jupiter from
imminent death: it was also necessary that his father should remain
unconscious of his existence.
[Sidenote: Jupiter's infancy.]
To insure this, Rhea intrusted her babe to the tender care of the
Melian nymphs, who bore him off to a cave on Mount Ida. There a goat,
Amalthea, was procured to act as nurse, and fulfilled her office so
acceptably that she was eventually placed in the heavens as a
constellation, a brilliant reward for her kind ministrations. To
prevent Jupiter's cries being heard in Olympus, the Curetes
(Corybantes), Rhea's priests, uttered piercing screams, clashed their
weapons, executed fierce dances, and chanted rude war songs.
The real significance of all this unwonted noise and commotion was not
at all understood by Cronus, who, in the intervals of his numerous
affairs, congratulated himself upon the cunning he had shown to
prevent the accomplishment of his father's curse. But all his anxiety
and fears were aroused when he suddenly became aware of the fraud
practiced upon him, and of young Jupiter's continued existence. He
immediately tried to devise some plan to get rid of him; but, before
he could put it into execution, he found himself attacked, and, after
a short but terrible encounter, signally defeated.
[Sidenote: Jupiter's supremacy.]
Jupiter, delighted to have triumphed so quickly, took possession of
the supreme power, and aided by Rhea's counsels, and by a nauseous
potion prepared by Metis, a daughter of Oceanus, compelled Cronus to
produce the unfortunate children he had swallowed; i.e., Neptune,
Pluto, Vesta, Ceres, and Juno.
Following the example of his predecessor, Jupiter gave his brothers
and sisters a fair share of his new kingdom. The wisest among the
Titans--Mnemosyne, Themis, Oceanus, and Hyperion--submitted to the new
sovereign without murmur, but the others refused their allegiance;
which refusal, of course, occasioned a deadly conflict.
"When gods began with wrath,
And war rose up between their starry brows,
Some choosing to cast Cronus from his throne
That Zeus might king it there, and some in haste
With opposite oaths that they would have no Zeus
To rule the gods forever."
E. B. Browning.
[Sidenote: The giants' war.]
Jupiter, from the top of Mount Olympus, discerned the superior number
of his foes, and, quite aware of their might, concluded that
reënforcements to his party would not be superfluous. In haste,
therefore, he released the Cyclopes from Tartarus, where they had
languished so long, stipulating that in exchange for their freedom
they should supply him with thunderbolts,--weapons which only they
knew how to forge. This new engine caused great terror and dismay in
the ranks of the enemy, who, nevertheless, soon rallied, and struggled
valiantly to overthrow the usurper and win back the sovereignty of the
During ten long years the war raged incessantly, neither party wishing
to submit to the dominion of the other, but at the end of that time
the rebellious Titans were obliged to yield. Some of them were hurled
into Tartarus once more, where they were carefully secured by Neptune,
Jupiter's brother, while the young conqueror joyfully proclaimed his
"League all your forces then, ye powers above,
Join all, and try th' omnipotence of Jove:
Let down our golden everlasting chain,
Whose strong embrace holds heaven and earth and main:
Strive all, of mortal and immortal birth,
To drag, by this, the Thunderer down to earth,
Ye strive in vain! if I but stretch this hand,
I heave the gods, the ocean, and the land;
I fix the chain to great Olympus' height,
And the vast world hangs trembling in my sight!
For such I reign, unbounded and above;
And such are men and gods, compar'd to Jove."
Homer (Pope's tr.).
The scene of this mighty conflict was supposed to have been in
Thessaly, where the country bears the imprint of some great natural
convulsion; for the ancients imagined that the gods, making the most
of their gigantic strength and stature, hurled huge rocks at each
other, and piled mountain upon mountain to reach the abode of Jupiter,
"Mountain on mountain, as the Titans erst,
My brethren, scaling the high seat of Jove,
Heaved Pelion upon Ossa's shoulders broad
In vain emprise."
Saturn, or Cronus, the leader and instigator of the revolt, weary at
last of bloodshed and strife, withdrew to Italy, or Hesperia, where he
founded a prosperous kingdom, and reigned in peace for many long
[Sidenote: Death of Typhœus.]
Jupiter, having disposed of all the Titans, now fancied he would enjoy
the power so unlawfully obtained; but Gæa, to punish him for depriving
her children of their birthright, created a terrible monster, called
Typhœus, or Typhon, which she sent to attack him. This Typhœus was a
giant, from whose trunk one hundred dragon heads arose; flames shot
from his eyes, nostrils, and mouths; while he incessantly uttered such
blood-curdling screams, that the gods, in terror, fled from Mount
Olympus and sought refuge in Egypt. In mortal fear lest this
terror-inspiring monster would pursue them, the gods there assumed the
forms of different animals; and Jupiter became a ram, while Juno, his
sister and queen, changed herself into a cow.
The king of the gods, however, soon became ashamed of his cowardly
flight, and resolved to return to Mount Olympus to slay Typhœus with
his terrible thunderbolts. A long and fierce struggle ensued, at the
end of which, Jupiter, again victorious, viewed his fallen foe with
boundless pride; but his triumph was very short-lived.
[Sidenote: Defeat of Enceladus.]
Enceladus, another redoubtable giant, also created by Gæa, now
appeared to avenge Typhœus. He too was signally defeated, and bound
with adamantine chains in a burning cave under Mount Ætna. In early
times, before he had become accustomed to his prison, he gave vent to
his rage by outcries, imprecations, and groans: sometimes he even
breathed forth fire and flames, in hopes of injuring his conqueror.
But time, it is said, somewhat cooled his resentment; and now he is
content with an occasional change of position, which, owing to his
huge size, causes the earth to tremble over a space of many miles,
producing what is called an earthquake.
"'Tis said, that thunder-struck Enceladus,
Groveling beneath the incumbent mountain's weight,
Lies stretched supine, eternal prey of flames;
And, when he heaves against the burning load,
Reluctant, to invert his broiling limbs,
A sudden earthquake shoots through all the isle,
And Ætna thunders dreadful under ground,
Then pours out smoke in wreathing curls convolved,
And shades the sun's bright orb, and blots out day."
[Sidenote: Jupiter divides his realm.]
Jupiter had now conquered all his foes, asserted his right to the
throne, and could at last reign over the world undisturbed; but he
knew that it would be no small undertaking to rule well heaven,
earth, and sea, and resolved to divide the power with his brothers. To
avoid quarrels and recriminations, he portioned the world out into
lots, allowing each of his brothers the privilege of drawing his own
Neptune thus obtained control over the sea and all the rivers, and
immediately expressed his resolve to wear a symbolic crown, composed
exclusively of marine shells and aquatic plants, and to abide within
the bounds of his watery realm.
Pluto, the most taciturn of the brothers, received for his portion the
scepter of Tartarus and all the Lower World, where no beam of sunlight
was ever allowed to find its way; while Jupiter reserved for himself
the general supervision of his brothers' estates, and the direct
management of Heaven and Earth.
Peace now reigned throughout all the world. Not a murmur was heard,
except from the Titans, who at length, seeing that further opposition
would be useless, grew reconciled to their fate.
In the days of their prosperity, the Titans had intermarried. Cronus
had taken Rhea "for better or for worse;" and Iapetus had seen, loved,
and wedded the fair Clymene, one of the ocean nymphs, or Oceanides,
daughters of Oceanus. The latter pair became the proud parents of four
gigantic sons,--Atlas, Menetius, Prometheus (Forethought), and
Epimetheus (Afterthought),--who were destined to play prominent parts
in Grecian mythology.
[Sidenote: Story of Prometheus.]
At the time of the creation, after covering the new-born Earth with
luxuriant vegetation, and peopling it with living creatures of all
kinds, Eros perceived that it would be necessary to endow them with
instincts which would enable them to preserve and enjoy the life they
had received. He therefore called the youngest two sons of Iapetus to
his aid, and bade them make a judicious distribution of gifts to all
living creatures, and create and endow a superior being, called Man,
to rule over all the others.
[Illustration: MINERVA AND PROMETHEUS.--Thorwaldsen. (Copenhagen.)]
Prometheus' and Epimetheus' first care was, very naturally, to provide
for the beings already created. These they endowed with such reckless
generosity, that all their favors were soon dispensed, and none
remained for the endowment of man. Although they had not the remotest
idea how to overcome this difficulty, they proceeded to fashion man
"Prometheus first transmuted
Atoms culled for human clay."
They first molded an image similar in form to the gods; bade Eros
breathe into its nostrils the spirit of life, and Minerva (Pallas)
endow it with a soul; whereupon man lived, and moved, and viewed his
Justly proud of his handiwork, Prometheus observed man, and longed to
bestow upon him some great power, unshared by any other creature of
mortal birth, which would raise him far above all other living beings,
and bring him nearer to the perfection of the immortal gods. Fire
alone, in his estimation, could effect this; but fire was the special
possession and prerogative of the gods, and Prometheus knew they would
never willingly share it with man, and that, should any one obtain it
by stealth, they would never forgive the thief. Long he pondered the
matter, and finally determined to obtain fire, or die in the attempt.
One dark night, therefore, he set out for Olympus, entered unperceived
into the gods' abode, seized a lighted brand, hid it in his bosom, and
departed unseen, exulting in the success of his enterprise. Arrived
upon earth once more, he consigned the stolen treasure to the care of
man, who immediately adapted it to various purposes, and eloquently
expressed his gratitude to the benevolent deity who had risked his own
life to obtain it for him.
"Of Prometheus, how undaunted
On Olympus' shining bastions
His audacious foot he planted,
Myths are told and songs are chanted,
Full of promptings and suggestions.
"Beautiful is the tradition
Of that flight through heavenly portals,
The old classic superstition
Of the theft and the transmission
Of the fire of the Immortals."
From his lofty throne on the topmost peak of Mount Olympus Jupiter
beheld an unusual light down upon earth. Anxious to ascertain its
exact nature, he watched it closely, and before long discovered the
larceny. His anger then burst forth, terrible to behold; and the gods
all quailed when they heard him solemnly vow he would punish the
unhappy Prometheus without mercy. To seize the offender in his mighty
grasp, bear him off to the Caucasian Mountains, and bind him fast to a
great rock, was but a moment's work. There a voracious vulture was
summoned to feast upon his liver, the tearing of which from his side
by the bird's cruel beak and talons caused the sufferer intense
anguish. All day long the vulture gorged himself; but during the cool
night, while the bird slept, Prometheus' suffering abated, and the
liver grew again, thus prolonging the torture, which bade fair to have
Disheartened by the prospect of long years of unremitting pain,
Prometheus at times could not refrain from pitiful complaints; but
generation after generation of men lived on earth, and died, blessing
him for the gift he had obtained for them at such a terrible cost.
After many centuries of woe, Hercules, son of Jupiter and Alcmene,
found Prometheus, killed the vulture, broke the adamantine chains, and
liberated the long-suffering god.
[Sidenote: Story of Epimetheus and Pandora.]
The first mortals lived on earth in a state of perfect innocence and
bliss. The air was pure and balmy; the sun shone brightly all the
year; the earth brought forth delicious fruit in abundance; and
beautiful, fragrant flowers bloomed everywhere. Man was content.
Extreme cold, hunger, sickness, and death were unknown. Jupiter, who
justly ascribed a good part of this beatific condition to the gift
conferred by Prometheus, was greatly displeased, and tried to devise
some means to punish mankind for the acceptance of the heavenly fire.
With this purpose in view, he assembled the gods on Mount Olympus,
where, in solemn council, they decided to create woman; and, as soon
as she had been artfully fashioned, each one endowed her with some
special charm, to make her more attractive.
"The crippled artist-god,
Illustrious, molded from the yielding clay
A bashful virgin's image, as advis'd
* * * * *
"But now when the fair mischief, seeming-good,
His hand had perfected, he led her forth
Exulting in her grac'd attire, the gift
Of Pallas, in the midst of gods and men.
On men and gods in that same moment seiz'd
The ravishment of wonder, when they saw
The deep deceit, th' inextricable snare."
Hesiod (Elton's tr.).
Their united efforts were crowned with the utmost success. Nothing was
lacking, except a name for the peerless creature; and the gods, after
due consideration, decreed she should be called Pandora. They then
bade Mercury take her to Prometheus as a gift from heaven; but he,
knowing only too well that nothing good would come to him from the
gods, refused to accept her, and cautioned his brother Epimetheus to
follow his example. Unfortunately Epimetheus was of a confiding
disposition, and when he beheld the maiden he exclaimed, "Surely so
beautiful and gentle a being can bring no evil!" and accepted her most
The first days of their union were spent in blissful wanderings, hand
in hand, under the cool forest shade; in weaving garlands of fragrant
flowers; and in refreshing themselves with the luscious fruit, which
hung so temptingly within reach.
One lovely evening, while dancing on the green, they saw Mercury,
Jupiter's messenger, coming towards them. His step was slow and weary,
his garments dusty and travel-stained, and he seemed almost to stagger
beneath the weight of a huge box which rested upon his shoulders.
Pandora immediately ceased dancing, to speculate with feminine
curiosity upon the contents of the chest. She nudged Epimetheus, and
in a whisper begged him to ask Mercury what brought him thither.
Epimetheus complied with her request; but Mercury evaded the question,
asked permission to deposit his burden in their dwelling for
safekeeping, professing himself too weary to convey it to its
destination that day, and promised to call for it shortly. The
permission was promptly granted. Mercury, with a sigh of relief,
placed the box in one corner, and then departed, refusing all
hospitable offers of rest and refreshment.
He had scarcely crossed the threshold, when Pandora expressed a strong
desire to have a peep at the contents of the mysterious box; but
Epimetheus, surprised and shocked, told her that her curiosity was
unseemly, and then, to dispel the frown and pout seen for the first
time on the fair face of his beloved, he entreated her to come out
into the fresh air and join in the merry games of their companions.
For the first time, also, Pandora refused to comply with his request.
Dismayed, and very much discouraged, Epimetheus sauntered out alone,
thinking she would soon join him, and perhaps by some caress atone for
her present willfulness.
Left alone with the mysterious casket, Pandora became more and more
inquisitive. Stealthily she drew near, and examined it with great
interest, for it was curiously wrought of dark wood, and surmounted by
a delicately carved head, of such fine workmanship that it seemed to
smile and encourage her. Around the box a glittering golden cord was
wound, and fastened on top in an intricate knot. Pandora, who prided
herself specially on her deft fingers, felt sure she could unfasten
it, and, reasoning that it would not be indiscreet to untie it if she
did not raise the lid, she set to work. Long she strove, but all in
vain. Ever and anon the laughing voices of Epimetheus and his
companions, playing in the luxuriant shade, were wafted in on the
summer breeze. Repeatedly she heard them call, and beseech her to join
them; yet she persisted in her attempt. She was just on the point of
giving it up in despair, when suddenly the refractory knot yielded to
her fumbling fingers, and the cord, unrolling, dropped on the floor.
Pandora had repeatedly fancied that sounds like whispers issued from
the box. The noise now seemed to increase, and she breathlessly
applied her ear to the lid to ascertain whether it really proceeded
from within. Imagine, therefore, her surprise when she distinctly
heard these words, uttered in the most pitiful accents: "Pandora, dear
Pandora, have pity upon us! Free us from this gloomy prison! Open,
open, we beseech you!"
Pandora's heart beat so fast and loud, that it seemed for a moment to
drown all other sounds. Should she open the box? Just then a familiar
step outside made her start guiltily. Epimetheus was coming, and she
knew he would urge her again to come out, and would prevent the
gratification of her curiosity. Precipitately, therefore, she raised
the lid to have one little peep before he came in.
Now, Jupiter had malignantly crammed into this box all the diseases,
sorrows, vices, and crimes that afflict poor humanity; and the box was
no sooner opened, than all these ills flew out, in the guise of horrid
little brown-winged creatures, closely resembling moths. These little
insects fluttered about, alighting, some upon Epimetheus, who had just
entered, and some upon Pandora, pricking and stinging them most
unmercifully. Then they flew out through the open door and windows,
and fastened upon the merrymakers without, whose shouts of joy were
soon changed into wails of pain and anguish.
Epimetheus and Pandora had never before experienced the faintest
sensation of pain or anger; but, as soon as these winged evil spirits
had stung them, they began to weep, and, alas! quarreled for the first
time in their lives. Epimetheus reproached his wife in bitterest terms
for her thoughtless action; but in the very midst of his vituperation
he suddenly heard a sweet little voice entreat for freedom. The sound
proceeded from the unfortunate box, whose cover Pandora had dropped
again, in the first moment of her surprise and pain. "Open, open, and
I will heal your wounds! Please let me out!" it pleaded.
The tearful couple viewed each other inquiringly, and listened again.
Once more they heard the same pitiful accents; and Epimetheus bade his
wife open the box and set the speaker free, adding very amiably, that
she had already done so much harm by her ill-fated curiosity, that it
would be difficult to add materially to its evil consequences, and
that, perchance, the box contained some good spirit, whose
ministrations might prove beneficial.
It was well for Pandora that she opened the box a second time, for the
gods, with a sudden impulse of compassion, had concealed among the
evil spirits one kindly creature, Hope, whose mission was to heal the
wounds inflicted by her fellow-prisoners.
"Hope sole remain'd within, nor took her flight,
Beneath the vessel's verge conceal'd from light."
Hesiod (Elton's tr.).
Lightly fluttering hither and thither on her snowy pinions, Hope
touched the punctured places on Pandora's and Epimetheus' creamy skin,
and relieved their suffering, then quickly flew out of the open
window, to perform the same gentle office for the other victims, and
cheer their downcast spirits.
Thus, according to the ancients, evil entered into the world, bringing
untold misery; but Hope followed closely in its footsteps, to aid
struggling humanity, and point to a happier future.
"Hope rules a land forever green:
All powers that serve the bright-eyed Queen
Are confident and gay;
Clouds at her bidding disappear;
Points she to aught?--the bliss draws near,
And Fancy smooths the way."
During many centuries, therefore, Hope continued to be revered,
although the other divinities had ceased to be worshiped.
According to another version, Pandora was sent down to man, bearing a
vase in which the evil spirits were imprisoned, and on the way, seized
by a fit of curiosity, raised the cover, and allowed them all to
[Sidenote: The Four Ages.]
Little by little the world was peopled; and the first years of man's
existence upon earth were, as we have seen, years of unalloyed
happiness. There was no occasion for labor, for the earth brought
forth spontaneously all that was necessary for man's subsistence.
"Innocence, virtue, and truth prevailed; neither were there any laws
to restrict men, nor judges to punish." This time of bliss has justly
borne the title of Golden Age, and the people in Italy then throve
under the wise rule of good old Saturn, or Cronus.
Unfortunately, nothing in this world is lasting; and the Golden Age
was followed by another, not quite so prosperous, hence called the
Silver Age, when the year was first divided into seasons, and men were
obliged to toil for their daily bread.
"Succeeding times a silver age behold,
Excelling brass, but more excell'd by gold.
Then summer, autumn, winter, did appear,
And spring was but a season of the year;
The sun his annual course obliquely made,
Good days contracted, and enlarg'd the bad.
The air with sultry heats began to glow,
The wings of winds were clogg'd with ice and snow;
And shivering mortals into houses driven,
Sought shelter from the inclemency of heaven.
Those houses, then, were caves or homely sheds,
With twining osiers fenc'd, and moss their beds.
Then plows, for seed, the fruitful furrows broke,
And oxen labor'd first beneath the yoke."
Ovid (Dryden's tr.).
Yet, in spite of these few hardships, the people were happy, far
happier than their descendants during the Age of Brass, which
speedily followed, when strife became customary, and differences were
settled by blows.
But by far the worst of all was the Iron Age, when men's passions knew
no bounds, and they even dared refuse all homage to the immortal gods.
War was waged incessantly; the earth was saturated with blood; the
rights of hospitality were openly violated; and murder, rape, and
theft were committed on all sides.
[Sidenote: The Deluge.]
Jupiter had kept a close watch over men's actions during all these
years; and this evil conduct aroused his wrath to such a point, that
he vowed he would annihilate the human race. But the modes of
destruction were manifold, and, as he could not decide which would
eventually prove most efficacious, he summoned the gods to deliberate
and aid him by their counsels. The first suggestion offered, was to
destroy the world by fire, kindled by Jupiter's much-dreaded
thunderbolts; and the king of gods was about to put it into instant
execution, when his arm was stayed by the objection that the rising
flames might set fire to his own abode, and reduce its magnificence to
unsightly ashes. He therefore rejected the plan as impracticable, and
bade the gods devise other means of destruction.
After much delay and discussion, the immortals agreed to wash mankind
off the face of the earth by a mighty deluge. The winds were
instructed to gather together the rain clouds over the earth. Neptune
let loose the waves of the sea, bidding them rise, overflow, and
deluge the land. No sooner had the gods spoken, than the elements
obeyed: the winds blew; the rain fell in torrents; lakes, seas,
rivers, and oceans broke their bonds; and terrified mortals,
forgetting their petty quarrels in a common impulse to flee from the
death which threatened them, climbed the highest mountains, clung to
uprooted trees, and even took refuge in the light skiffs they had
constructed in happier days. Their efforts were all in vain, however;
for the waters rose higher and higher, overtook them one after another
in their ineffectual efforts to escape, closed over the homes where
they might have been so happy, and drowned their last despairing
cries in their seething depths.
"Now hills and vales no more distinction know,
And level'd nature lies oppress'd below;
The most of mortals perish in the flood."
Ovid (Dryden's tr.).
[Sidenote: Story of Deucalion and Pyrrha.]
The rain continued to fall, until, after many days, the waves covered
all the surface of the earth except the summit of Mount Parnassus, the
highest peak in Greece. On this mountain, surrounded by the
ever-rising flood, stood the son of Prometheus, Deucalion, with his
faithful wife Pyrrha, a daughter of Epimetheus and Pandora. From
thence they, the sole survivors, viewed the universal desolation with
In spite of the general depravity, the lives of this couple had always
been pure and virtuous; and when Jupiter saw them there alone, and
remembered their piety, he decided not to include them in the general
destruction, but to save their lives. He therefore bade the winds
return to their cave, and the rain to cease. Neptune, in accordance
with his decree, blew a resounding blast upon his conch shell to
recall the wandering waves, which immediately returned within their
"At length the world was all restor'd to view,
But desolate, and of a sickly hue;
Nature beheld herself, and stood aghast,
A dismal desert and a silent waste."
Ovid (Dryden's tr.).
Deucalion and Pyrrha followed the receding waves step by step down the
steep mountain side, wondering how they should repeople the desolate
earth. As they talked, they came to the shrine of Delphi, which alone
had been able to resist the force of the waves. There they entered to
consult the wishes of the gods. Their surprise and horror were
unbounded, however, when a voice exclaimed, "Depart from hence with
veiled heads, and cast your mother's bones behind you!" To obey such
a command seemed sacrilegious in the extreme; for the dead had always
been held in deep veneration by the Greeks, and the desecration of a
grave was considered a heinous crime, and punished accordingly. But,
they reasoned, the gods' oracles can seldom be accepted in a literal
sense; and Deucalion, after due thought, explained to Pyrrha what he
conceived to be the meaning of this mysterious command.
"The Earth," said he, "is the mother of all, and the stones may be
considered her bones." Husband and wife speedily decided to act upon
this premise, and continued their descent, casting stones behind them.
All those thrown by Deucalion were immediately changed into men, while
those cast by Pyrrha became women.
Thus the earth was peopled for the second time with a blameless race
of men, sent to replace the wicked beings slain by Jupiter. Deucalion
and Pyrrha shortly after became the happy parents of a son named
Hellen, who gave his name to all the Hellenic or Greek race; while his
sons Æolus and Dorus, and grandsons Ion and Achæus, became the
ancestors of the Æolian, Dorian, Ionian, and Achaian nations.
Other mythologists, in treating of the deluvian myths, state that
Deucalion and Pyrrha took refuge in an ark, which, after sailing about
for many days, was stranded on the top of Mount Parnassus. This
version was far less popular with the Greeks, although it betrays
still more plainly the common source whence all these myths are
"Who does not see in drown Deucalion's name,
When Earth her men and Sea had lost her shore,